Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis uses a surreal setting as a motor for his cutting criticism of certain social mores. The protagonist, Gregor Samsa, is a travelling salesman who works hard to support his idle mother, father and younger sister.
One day, Samsa wakes up transformed into a giant insect. His parents are repulsed by him; only his little sister shows him affection and compassion, and that only until she moves into adulthood, when she, too, spurns him.
It’s the kind of story that’s certain to appeal to the choreographer Arthur Pita, whose imagination often strays into dark, nightmarish realms; his dance-theatre adaptation of The Metamorphosis stunned audiences when it premiered at the ROH’s Linbury Theatre in 2011.
Gregor Samsa was danced by the Royal Ballet principal Edward Watson, a role that absolutely fits Watson’s combination of hyper-flexible body and expressionist acting. In the first part, he follows the same daily ritual like an automaton: rise in the early morning, get dressed, pick up his briefcase and go to work, reversing the process as he returns home in the evening. Other than his little sister, a budding ballet dancer, the family show him no love or gratitude.
One morning, though, Samsa wakes up transformed into a giant insect, and here Watson really comes into his own as, increasingly horrified, he watches his strange new body, slowly moving in unexpectedly sluggish ways.
The main part of the work centres entirely on Watson. Before our eyes his body gradually appears to develop different articulations: toes quivering independently of the rest of him, like the tips of an insect’s legs, even while he curls in on himself, losing his human shape. At the same time, the monstrous insect seems to ooze a dark brown gunk, which slowly covers his body and the stage.
Throughout, Watson’s eyes retain their humanity and express increasing anguish and despair, creating in us deep compassion even as we feel revulsed by his body.
It’s a truly masterful performance, which rightly won Edward Watson an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance.
The Metamorphosis is set to a score by Frank Moon, with designs by Simon Daw and lighting by Guy Hoare.
Age Guidance: 11+
|What||The Royal Ballet, The Metamorphosis online|
|Where||Online | MAP|
17 Apr 20 – 17 Aug 20, 19:00 Dur.: 1 hour 10 mins no interval